Medical marijuana makes more sense

According to NORML, thirteen states have active medical marijuana programs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that residents of those states can use marijuana to treat medical conditions without risk. Even though the people of those states democratically legalized such use, the Supreme Court demonstrated that it has no compassion for the chronically ill. The Federal government outranks the state government.

It’s about time the Feds get enlightened. Earlier this year, a group of medical doctors, endorsed using marijuana for medical purposes, urging the government to roll back a prohibition on using it to treat patients and supporting studies into its medical applications. This endorsement did not come from a bunch of quacks practicing on the fringes of medicine; it was the American College of Physicians, the second-largest doctors group in the United States.

Sadly, the Bush administration is immune to the logic of science. However, it’s become more difficult for the administration to ignore the benefits of marijuana for treating conditions that pharmaceuticals do not effectively treat. Last month, a study found that giving carefully calibrated doses of smoked marijuana to people with neuropathic pain, which can be difficult-to-treat and extremely painful, can ease their pain without clouding their minds. Those racked with chronic pain will tell you that the value of such relief cannot be counted in dollars and cents.

This is not the only medical condition that marijuana can treat. Because of the variety of ailments that can be treated with it, marijuana could improve the quality of life of countless Americans if the Feds would just lighten up. The emerging clinical applications for cannabis & cannabinoids range from Alzheimer’s disease to Tourette’s Syndrome:

Diagram of human body showing health conditions that could potentially be treated with medical marijuana
Potential Therapeutic Uses of Medical Marijuana

Congress passes law establishing the Christian religion

The Establishment Clause is one reason why the USA has remained one nation, indivisible for so long. Now the House of Representatives is trying to tear Americans apart by religion. They have passed the House Resolution 847, Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

How is it possible that congress did not recognize something even more important? HR 847 is unquestionably a direct violation of the Constitution. The very first amendment of the Bill of Rights says unequivocally that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.? Yet HR 847 does just that, establishing the “Christian faith.”

And where does this leave Muslim and Jewish Americans or, for that matter, any American of any faith other than Christianity? Congress is implying that they’re unimportant.

Then there are atheist Americans: since atheism is the absence of any faith, including Christianity, should they infer that they, too, are unimportant to congress? Ironically, many atheists ‘celebrate’ Christmas, albeit secularly. Since HR 847 also establishes the importance of Christmas, does that mean congress considers atheists who observe Christmas halfway important?

What was once unusual is now commonplace

My twentieth anniversary of being quadriplegic came last week and I never realized I passed it by until it was in the rear-view mirror. On the afternoon of December 3rd, 1987, I was a fit, talented athlete cross-training for the ski season with some cycling. Before the end of the ride, my body was paralyzed below the shoulders. I haven’t walked since then and my power wheelchair is the only wheeled vehicle I ride anymore.

What was once totally foreign to me has now become commonplace. Even a year or two after sustaining a complete spinal cord injury, I would still frequently wonder why such a catastrophic injury would happen to me as I would observe in wonder at the surreal circumstances I was in. In the blink of an eye, I went from a life focused on sports and other physical activities to one devoid of athletic endeavors and reliant on intellectual or professional pursuits for achievement. I had to instantaneously change my lifestyle 180 degrees to find fulfillment.

After twenty years, this lifestyle must not be so novel to me anymore. Otherwise, how could this milestone anniversary have come and gone without me taking notice? Where being quadriplegic once was something that happens to other people, I now am that other person. I’ve become so accustomed to dealing with quadriplegia that it is no longer something I must dwell on just to get through my activities of daily living.

That’s not to say life is without struggle for me. On the contrary—I face countless challenges daily just trying to do those everyday things that able-bodied people take for granted (I know this because I, too, used to take them for granted). The difference is that I now face those struggles trying to realize self-actualization whereas the struggles were then just trying to achieve the physiological and safety needs from Maslow’s hierarchy. I guess I’ve discovered that dwelling on what I cannot do only gets in the way of achieving that which I can.

In the early years of my disability, I never would have risen above the barriers I faced to become a productive member of society without the strength, support, and love of my mother. To this day, she is still my foundation and has never failed to give of anything she can to continue supporting me. The rest of my tight-knit family has given me whatever other support I have needed to fully engage in an active and fulfilling life.

The first decade of disability was dedicated to rebuilding and learning to adapt. As a high school dropout, I didn’t expect to accomplish much professionally without a degree being a quadriplegic. It took me quite a few years to get an undergraduate degree and then an MBA. In the meantime, I had to learn how to have fun without participating in some sport. It turns out that the wheelchair seating is pretty good in some venues, so concerts continued to be a frequent leisure activity for me. I could watch sports just as well paralyzed as able-bodied. Watching movies was yet another way to pass the time.

The last decade of disability has been dedicated to rejoining the workforce and developing a career. Even with the growing awareness of people with disabilities in society, this is unquestionably the greatest challenge to conquer for someone with a severe disability. Although it’s likely subconscious, there is still a surprising amount of discrimination against people with disabilities in employment. Fortunately, I have been able to encounter a handful of progressive organizations that have overlooked my physical limitations and hired me for my capabilities. I have enjoyed working in a variety of different jobs this decade that were suited to my skills and knowledge such that I have been relatively successful at making valuable contributions to my employer. Hopefully the workforce’s exposure to me has increased the odds of the next young man with a severe disability coming along looking for a job to get it.

Now I’m managing a very successful business unit for an organization. I have led it to rapid growth and through substantial development. Of course, that means I’ve been very busy so, when the twentieth anniversary of my disability came along last week, I was too busy to remember it. I suppose that’s a good thing—had I not realized the accomplishments I’ve had in spite of being quadriplegic, I’d probably be sitting around home every weekday watching TV and the milestone would instead have loomed up on me like a big cloud.

Granted, I still occasionally think that quadriplegia has made my life rather dismal in many ways. At times like that, all I have to do is think about what life would be like living in a place like Darfur or even just a hundred miles away like the slums of Tijuana to realize that I’m really quite blessed. So here I go, looking forward to the next two decades with anticipation and determination to make them better than the last two.

Check back here at the end of 2027. If I write nothing whatsoever about the fortieth anniversary of my quadriplegia, it will mean either I’ve become fully self-actualized or someone discovers the cure to spinal cord injuries.

America’s lifeblood slips away

As of yesterday, Los Angeles set a record for the least rainfall in any year since records have been kept. Yet it seems as if no one is alarmed. In past Southern California droughts, the media was full of appeals to the public to conserve water. This time, there’s not a word about it, and Californians are watering their lawns in midday, ‘sweeping’ their driveways by spraying water, taking long showers, and denying the dangers of global warming.

It’s not just Los Angeles that’s in a drought. One-third of the continental United States is in a drought that has been drying out the West for almost a decade. Even the Southeast, which is normally a relatively wet part of the country, is mired in drought.

Pier sitting on dry lake bed
Lake Okeechobee in Florida at all-time low water level

Should Americans be concerned about these conditions? They should if they like their current standard of living. Meteorologists are warning that conditions similar to those which led to the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s are again in place in the 21st century. The Dust Bowl lasted more than a year and was so severe that it left over half a million Americans homeless (at a time when the population of the country was much smaller than it is now), and it played a significant role in prolonging the Great Depression.

Americans need to wake up to the threat that drought is posing to the country. Water is the lifeblood to so much of what we take for granted in our everyday lives. People in the effected areas of the country need to change their habits and conserve water, and all of America needs to take action to mitigate global warming so that drought does not become a permanent fixture in our homeland.

We don’t need no stinking badges!

The first time I saw The Police in concert was twenty-five years ago. They played the Sunrise Music Theater, a small venue that seated a couple of thousand people in Sunrise, Florida. I was about a dozen rows back, slightly stage left of center. Sting was playing the stand-up bass.

When I saw them last week, it was in Southern California. The venue seats a little less than 20,000. I sat in the Terrace. Still, it wasn’t a bad view since I was directly next to the stage at the front of the section, so the view was completely unobstructed. Besides, there were a couple of jumbotrons directly in front of me.

I’ve also seen Sting perform solo in concert, and I enjoy his music. Nonetheless, I prefer his work with The Police. I was excited to get the opportunity to see the group rejoined again after so long. I had very high expectations, considering the three of them are now seasoned veterans and Sting is a great talent. In the end, the show was enjoyable but it didn’t meet my expectations.

Surprisingly, the star of the show was clearly Stewart Copeland. His drumming and percussion performance was flawless, and his style was captivating. The Police’s rhythms are so complex, yet the beauty of Copeland’s drumming is more the riffs he leaves out than the ones he plays.

Sting’s bass playing was also excellent. However, he was not in top form vocally—it wasn’t bad, but he didn’t have the chops I’ve heard him sing before. In all fairness, that should come as no surprise considering he got little vocal support from his band mates, and they had already been touring for a while. The vocals were left almost entirely up to Sting. There were none of the harmonies that their studio work has and there were little backup vocals. Sting’s voice was probably a bit tired and so he didn’t hit some of the higher notes.

Certainly Andy Summers should have been able to sing a lot more than he did. It’s not as if he was too busy playing guitar. Summers plays few of the fast, intricate leads so common in rock. He mostly played his trademark simple, spatial guitar licks. Nonetheless, he did a fairly good job playing them.

The stage production was somewhat lackluster, particularly juxtaposed against the Roger Waters concert I went to last week. The Police had a typical laser and light show. They played a couple of videos on the jumbotrons, but it was mostly live shots of the band that they played on them. The sound reinforcement was a little muddy with the reproduction of the bass and drums when they were playing fast and loud.

However, when the band was playing some of their more spatial songs that they’re noted for, their instrumental work was excellent. It was refreshing to be treated to quality musicianship by a classic power trio line-up that is so rare in contemporary music. Although I wasn’t blown away by the concert, I was well entertained. The Police showed that they don’t need to carry badges to do good work.

When pigs fly!

I went to my first Roger Waters concert last night with my friend Larry (who has seen every show in town, no matter how rare, unavailable, and hard to find the music is). The show was spectacular! I have never been to a Pink Floyd concert either, but I’ve heard about what incredible shows they are for years. As a founding member and the main songwriter of Pink Floyd, the show Waters produced last night exceeded all my expectations. The band was well rehearsed and, other than missing David Gilmour’s distinctive vocals, the music sounded as good as the studio work.

The show was in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater set against the side of a hill in south Orange County—you can’t ask for a better venue on a mild spring night under the stars. The wheelchair seating is excellent, at the back of the Orchestra, so it’s close enough to the stage for a good view without binoculars, and raised high enough so that those of us who cannot stand from our wheelchairs (which also applies to Larry, who happens to be the one who convinced the venue’s management to make the seating unobstructed) can still see when the rest of the crowd stands. I was in section 1, six seats from the inside aisle. The amphitheater seats about 16,000, and was chock full of enthusiastic Pink Floyd fans last night. It has a very large stage, a couple of jumbotrons, and an excellent sound system.

I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for decades, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to see Roger Waters. I’m not the type of person who takes notes at a concert, I just sit back and enjoy, so I can’t reel off the song list, the opener and the encore. However, I can say that Waters opened with a set about an hour long of all the classic Pink Floyd songs I was hoping to hear and some more esoteric material that I didn’t know by heart but enjoyed all the same, along with some of Waters’ solo music—a new one called Leaving Beirut being the most memorable for me.

Then after a fifteen minute intermission, Waters played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. They did a great job of synching all of the recorded sound effects that are so inherently inextricable to the piece with the band’s live performance. Being the first CD I ever bought about a quarter of a century ago, Dark Side of the Moon is probably still my favorite album, so it was wonderful to experience it performed live end-to-end in order. Besides, as good as some of the songs are individually, Dark Side of the Moon is really designed to be a cohesive piece, so I was very pleased that Waters performed it that way. Eclipse was followed by a bow and a three or four song encore.

As great as the music was last night, it was not the stand-out part of the concert experience. I’ve had countless memorable concert experiences over almost thirty years of concert-going. The music is usually what makes a concert great. However, all of the production effects outside of the music were what made this show special for me. As spectacular as they were, they did not distract from the music; they enhanced it.

The stage was backed by an immense high-definition television screen. The concert opened with a close-up shot of an old radio on the screen. Periodically, a hand would reach into the shot, pick up a cigarette, and tune the radio. This was a recurring element in the show, with the hand “tuning in” the first couple of the songs the band played, then later clips pulling back and showing more of what was going on with the man in the room who was tuning the radio. However, there was plenty of other video material played on the screen over the course of the concert, including some of the footage from The Wall. The high-definition resolution made the video component very special.

The video wasn’t the extent of the effects. The sound reinforcement in the amphitheater was Surround Sound especially for this show, and Waters made extensive use of it with all the sound effects that are Pink Floyd’s trademark. The show had impressive on-stage pyrotechnics, a particular set of them which were so bright that they left green blind-spots in my eyes for a few minutes. The producers even deployed an innovative contraption which projected a three-dimensional laser light show.

However, the most surprising production effect was when a huge pig suddenly appeared floating over the audience. It was pink and a little bigger than one of those short yellow school buses. There was graffiti all over it, some of which made it clear what some of Waters’ political positions are. The words “Impeach Bush” were emblazoned across the back end of the pig, and the words “What an asshole!” were painted on its ham with an arrow pointing to where the pigs asshole would be—except that the aforementioned word “Bush” was already there at the end of the arrow. After making a circuit around the amphitheater, the pig was released and floated up with a spotlight on it during the intermission until it disappeared from sight. I wondered what would happen when it would finally lose its helium and float back down, likely landing in the middle of the 5 freeway somewhere in Norwalk this morning.

All in all, last night is sure to stand out for many years as one of my favorite concert experiences. I love Pink Floyd music and it was performed with excellent musicianship. Waters included all of my favorite Pink Floyd songs in what turned out to be a long show (showing great stamina for a 63 year old man). The venue and weather cooperated to be wonderful hosts. The stage production was incomparable. The next time someone tells me, “when pigs fly,” I’ll remember that, hey, it could happen.

Universal Design

Universal Design refers to incorporating features into a home which make it more accessible to persons with disabilities while retaining its utility and aesthetic for able-bodied residents. Unfortunately, even though the concept is that Universal Design should be equally as homey for able-bodied residents as a dwelling with no Universal Design is, it’s still rare to find housing with such features. So when a major apartment management company incorporated Universal Design into one of their units expressly for me without charging me for it, I thought the company deserves commendation for it.

The most important Universal Design feature for me is the curbless shower. It makes an act that most people take for granted, bathing, so much easier for me when I can simply roll my wheelchair right into the shower stall. The challenge is to design a curbless shower which does not appear institutional and in which a bather is just as comfortable using it standing up. Fortunately, manufacturers are now meeting that challenge.

Curbless shower
Curbless shower

The management also removed the cabinetry from under the sinks in both the master bathroom and the kitchen so that I could get my knees under either of the sinks while seated in front of them in a wheelchair. Granted, an able-bodied resident would likely prefer cabinetry under the sink, with doors to obscure the underside of the sink. However, what makes this qualify as Universal Design is the fact that the cabinetry can easily be restored under the sink if all disabled residents were to later vacate the dwelling.

Another feature they incorporated into the kitchen is a roll-out pantry. Each shelf has rollers that allow them to be pulled out in front of where the closed doors would be. This makes the items in the pantry much easier to reach for someone seated in front of it. Regardless, able-bodied residents also find this Universal Design feature preferable to standard shelving.

There are some other Universal Design features which were not added specifically for me. They were actually added to all of the apartment units when they renovated the property where I live because they are widely desired as contemporary interior design. These are the levered door handles, the touch pad light switches, and the hardwood flooring. While the handles and switches are very helpful features for people with limited manual dexterity, they are nonetheless preferred by all tenants. The hardwood flooring is much easier to roll a wheelchair on than a carpeted floor, but the management added it to all of the units when they did the renovation because their market was demanding it.

In front of each of the doors, management built up a small concrete pad that gently slopes right up to the threshold. Blending in with the walkway leading up to the front door (or the patio out back), this inconspicuous modification makes the apartment easily accessible to smoothly rolling a wheelchair into without having to install a wood or aluminum ramp. However, this feature is also beneficial to people walking into the residence because there’s no chance of accidentally tripping over the sill of the doorway. It also makes it easier to dolly items like a refrigerator into the home.

Finally, the last accommodation that management made for me is the carpeting. In the rooms without hardwood flooring, the apartment had the carpeting typically found in rental units—light colored with a nap. This kind of carpeting is rapidly trashed by wheelchairs. First of all, the tires track dirt in much more so than shoes do, leaving stains that are very conspicuous on light colored carpeting. Secondly, they also rapidly matte down the nap in the most frequently trafficked areas, leaving wheel tracks in the carpeting. So management laid commercial carpeting like they use in the leasing office in my apartment. Its short nap doesn’t get matted and the dark, mottled coloring camouflages the dirt tracked in by the wheels. This accommodation might not qualify as Universal Design since able-bodied tenants would probably prefer the standard carpeting.

Nonetheless, it speaks to the socially responsible manner in which my apartment management company does business. While accommodating the special needs of a small cohort, they’re also using innovative Universal Design that benefits the entire population they serve. I give a tip of the hat to them.

The best defense is a good offense

The buzzword regarding Israel’s response to Hezbollah capturing two Israeli soldiers and launching artillery into Israel’s civilian population centers is “disproportionate.” The claim by not only the EU but also many in the media is that Israel’s retaliation against Hezbollah is disproportionate. However, although it’s an accurate claim, the idea that Israel’s response should be measured is simply not grounded in rationality.

Hezbollah is the aggressor in this situation, initiating an attack against Israel. Israel is simply defending itself. You will never hear a military strategist, whether he be an instructor in a military academy or a general in the battlefield, say to use minimal force when defending yourself against attack. To defend yourself from attack by being certain that the response is proportionate to the force of the attacker is a recipe for defeat. In fact, the recommended defense when the attacker is weaker than the defender is for the defender to respond with immediate and overwhelming force, thereby shutting down the aggression before the attacker has the opportunity to build up power or effect substantial damage.

For example, Mexico has a less powerful military than the USA (and this is obviously a hypothetical used only to make a point). However, if Mexico were to kidnap American soldiers then begin bombing the USA, no one would dispute that America’s response would be swift and furious, even though Mexico is weaker. If Mexico were to continue shelling the USA after the defense was mounted, there’s no question that the USA would continue defending itself without letting up. Furthermore, if Mexico did not release the American captives after being subject to a ferocious defense, the American people would certainly demand that the military give no quarter and take whatever means necessary to prevail against Mexico until the soldiers were released.

It’s easy to say Israel is being disproportionate when you’re not Israel. However, when you put yourself in Israel’s boots, their defensive response no longer seems unreasonable. Yes, Israel’s response is disproportionate but that’s the exact response that is warranted. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

Be afraid, be very afraid!

After bouncing from yellow to orange to yellow to orange to yellow countless times, Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory System on the threat level no longer terrorizes Americans as he intended it to do. As his primary tool for keeping Americans in line with his agenda, Bush constantly has to find new tactics to frighten America. His latest is to have foiled bomb plots “leaked” to the press.

Today’s story is about a disrupted plot by eight terrorists to blow up a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan. After painting this scary story as “what we believe was the real deal” by FBI assistant director Mark Mershon, he put America at ease by assuring us that US authorities had collaborated with foreign ones to break up the attack before it occurred. So just how well developed was the plan and how real was the danger?

Mershon conceded that the plot was in its preliminary stages. He said, “They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks.” When you analyze the statement, you realize that means the terrorists had not even begun to even attempt surveillance of the tunnel. In fact, none of the suspects had ever even been to the United States. What Mershon really said was that the terrorists had not even formulated a systematic plan of attack or acquired the materiel and equipment needed to execute the non-existent plan. What the plot boiled down to was nothing more than some extremists brainstorming by email some outlandish ideas of how they might try to hurt America. Considering how much Bush has driven foreigners to hate America, this sort of thing must go on countless times every day around the world.

We found out more about this when New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly was interviewed on the News Hour today. He validated the fact that the plot was nothing more than transmissions on the Internet and:

…was still very much in the planning phase. Nothing of an operational nature had gone forward. They had not obtained, again, to the best of our knowledge, the means to go forward with actually executing this plan.

This plot was just the second in a series. A couple of weeks ago, federal agents captured the “Miami Seven”—a group of homeless religious fundamentalists living in a warehouse. They were accused of plotting to bomb Chicago’s 110-story Sears Tower and wage other attacks inside the United States. However, like the plot broken up today, FBI deputy director John Pistole admitted it was “more aspirational than operational.” That’s quite the understatement. Anyone who watched CNN’s interview of member Brother Corey on television could see that this troupe is sadly lacking in the capability of fully rational thinking.

So be afraid, America, be very afraid! Thank Bush’s administration for their crack detective work to intercept these grave threats to our safety. As long as Bush keeps you terrorized, he holds on to the last shred of undeserved credibility in his arsenal.

There is no “I” in team

After watching as much of the first round of the World Cup 2006 as I could find the time to, I projected that we would see Germany and Brazil in the finals. Sure, it was the obvious and easy call but I did have some grounds.

The individual skill and technique on Brazil’s team is unmatched. I could call out Ronaldo and Ronaldinho as examples but only because the talent is so deep on the team that it would take too long to list everyone. Like their coach said, he had no subs, just solutions. After the first game, their playmaking between each other was beautiful…right up ’til their last game.

Germany had the twelfth man advantage. With guys like Klose who were consistently putting the ball in the net, it looked like they could score plenty to take the German team to the end. Plus, Germany’s defense was rock solid—the game against Poland had to be some of the best defensive play I’d ever seen. The team was gelling beautifully…right up ’til their last game.

So what went wrong with my projection? In a word: teamwork (or lack thereof). In both cases, Germany and Brazil were eliminated when their teamwork did not come together for ninety minutes. And it only takes one game for that to be your downfall once you get past the first round in the World Cup.

OK, I know that there are only two teams left but I haven’t watched all of the Portugal – France match yet. I’ll finish watching it from my DVR tomorrow after work, so don’t tell me who won. But let’s look at the last three teams.

The one thing that Italy, Portugal, and France all have in common in this tournament is that they have exhibited consistently solid teamwork in every game. They all have strong talent but they’re all fairly evenly matched. I doubt it will be any individual’s skill or one team’s overall talent that will win the Cup this year. I think it’ll be the teams who fail to meld that’ll be eliminated in the remaining games.